How to Exercise when You Have a Cold

Three Methods:Protecting Yourself While ExercisingChoosing the Right ExercisesAvoiding Certain Exercises

If you are an active person, you may not want anything to stop you from your workout routine. Unfortunately, you may catch a cold, which can slow you down; however, if you want to work out when you have a cold, there are some guidelines you can follow to stay active.

Method 1
Protecting Yourself While Exercising

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    Check where your symptoms are. When you have a cold, there are only certain symptoms with which you can exercise. If your symptoms only affect parts of your body above your neck, you are safe to work out. Working out may actually help open your nasal passages. If your cold symptoms affect any body part below the neck, you should not exercise and instead rest.
    • Above the neck symptoms include minor sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, or nasal congestion.
    • Below the neck symptoms include chest congestion, productive or wet chest coughing, or upset stomach.[1]
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    Avoid exercise if your symptoms are severe. Although it may be helpful to work out when you have a cold, you should never work out if you have severe cold or flu symptoms. Never work out if you have a fever, are extremely fatigued, or if you have widespread muscle aches.
    • These are symptoms of a more intense cold, which may lead to a more severe illness if you overwork yourself with exercise.[2]
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    Stay hydrated. When you are sick, you need elevated levels of fluids. The same is true for when you work out, both before and after a workout. This means that it is especially true when you are sick and are working out. Make sure you get plenty of water before you work out and drink plenty afterwards.
    • If your throat is scratchy before or after, try warm liquids, such as tea or chicken broth, to help ease any discomfort.
    • You might also eat a healthy snack afterwards as well to keep your energy up, even if you just worked out for a short time.[3][4]
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    Cut back on how much you exercise. Your body expends a lot of energy fighting off the virus infecting your body when you are sick. Even if your symptoms are above the neck and not very severe, you should not work out for extended periods of time. Instead, try to keep your workout short.
    • This means you should skip your normal hour-long exercise routine and do about 30 minutes instead.
    • The reduced time will still be beneficial and it won't strain your healing body.[5]
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    Lower your intensity. Just like with a shorter amount of time, you should also lower the intensity of your workout. If you work out really hard for even a short amount of time, it can strain your body too much and cause you to get worse.
    • For example, if you do high-intensity kickboxing for 45 minutes at a time, try a different type of exercise while you are sick that is less intense, such as a cardio dance class.[6]
    • Working out at a high-intensity can actually increase your symptoms and make your immune system more susceptible to additional infections or illnesses.[7]
    • Light intensity workouts have been shown to help reduce the severity and length of upper respiratory infections.[8]
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    Take breaks while working out. While you are sick, you may tire easier than other times that you work out. If you find yourself feeling lightheaded or overextended, take a break before you return to working out.
    • The breaks can last from five minutes to 30 minutes, depending on how you feel. Only start back your exercise routine when you feel better and more stable.
    • You should also take breaks as often as you need them. It depends on your personal well being.
    • If you keep going, you may cause yourself injury or lengthen your symptoms.[9]
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    Keep out of the cold while exercising. When you have a cold, you should avoid doing any exercises outside if it is cold. The cold, dry air can irritate your airways, which can trigger coughing fits, a runny nose, or other breathing issues.[10]
    • This means you should not jog or walk in the cold.
    • Cold air is a risk factor for bringing on an asthma attack; therefore, if you have asthma be especially vigilant.
    • You should also avoid outside winter activities when you have a cold, such as skiing, snow hiking, or snowboarding.
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    See your doctor. If you aren't sure if you should work out with your symptoms, see your doctor. Your doctor will be able to tell you whether or not your symptoms are too severe to work out. Your doctor may also be able to give you other tips on how to work out with your symptoms.
    • If your symptoms get worse while you work out, you may also need to see your doctor to make sure your condition is not getting worse.[11]
    • Stop and call your doctor immediately if you have a coughing fit while exercising or if you develop increased chest congestion.
    • If you have trouble breathing, have increased chest pressure, feel extremely dizzy, or have difficulty balancing during a workout, you may need to seek immediate emergency care.[12]

Method 2
Choosing the Right Exercises

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    Walk. When you are sick, walking is a great way to get some exercise without overdoing it. You can decide exactly how long you walk, how far, and at what speed without too much effort. The fresh air may also help relieve your congestion if it is severe.[13]
    • Avoid going outside if your sinuses are made worse by allergies, especially if you are sick.
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    Jog. If you are a runner, you can still jog some while you are sick. Your body is used to running if you are a runner, so it will not take as much out of you if you are sick; however, if you are still learning or training to become a runner, lay off of jogging until you feel better.
    • Make sure you jog at a slower speed and for shorter periods of time when you are sick.[14]
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    Try qigong. Qigong is a traditional Chinese exercise that focuses on movement. It blends low-impact martial arts and meditation. This kind of exercise is great for you when you are sick because it doesn't take too much out of you physically while still working your muscles.[15]
    • It also helps reduce stress, lower anxiety, increase your energy, and improve your blood flow.[16]
    • There is even some early evidence that Qigong can help improve immunity if done at least three times a week.[17]
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    Do yoga. Yoga is a great low-impact exercise that you can do while you are sick. When you are sick, your body releases stress hormones, such as cortisol. Yoga can help relieve this stress and also may help boost immunity.[18]
    • However, you should avoid high-intensity versions of yoga, such as hot yoga, especially since these intense forms can make your sickness worse.
    • Stick to low-intensity versions of yoga or low-intensity moves. These include Supported Bridge Pose and Reclining Twist.[19]
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    Dance. Dancing is a great exercise when you have a bit of a head cold. Typically, dance classes get your heart rate up but are relatively low-impact, which will keep you from causing too much strain on your body. It also helps with stress relief and the production of antibodies that help fight colds, both of which help boost your immune system.
    • Try classes such as Zumba or cardio dance.[20]
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    Swim in moderation. Swimming is a low-impact exercise that can be moderated easily. You can swim for short periods of time or leisurely if you are feeling fatigued. For some people, swimming can also help with their cold and open up their sinuses.
    • However, this may not work for all people, especially if lying sideways bothers your sinuses.
    • Avoid swimming if you have a hard time breathing or if the chlorine in the water bothers your sinuses.[21]

Method 3
Avoiding Certain Exercises

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    Don’t weight train. When you are sick, your body is not at its peak. Your muscles are weaker and you fatigue faster. Because of this, you are likely not going to be able to perform to the same standards as you typically do with weights.
    • This means that you are at greater risk of injury while you are sick, especially if you try to do the intensity and weight you are used to doing while healthy.[22]
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    Avoid playing sports with your friends. Vigorous team sports are not a good idea when you are sick. Although some physical exercise may make you feel better, a large game of football or soccer could cause you to worsen your symptoms. Your friends may also crash into you while you are weak with a cold, which can do more harm to your body when you aren’t feeling well.
    • Plus, you are likely to spread your germs to the other players if you are all handling the same equipment, which isn’t safe for them.[23]
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    Skip the machines at the gym. If you are sick with a cold, avoid going to the gym. Not only are you more likely to do a more vigorous workout that can weaken your body more, you are also at risk of spreading your germs to those around you.
    • Consider if you would want a person with your symptoms using the machines at the gym before you.
    • Instead of going to the gym, do a simple, gentle exercise routine at home.[24]
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    Cut out long-distance running. If you are training for a marathon or triathlon, take extra care when you get a cold. Instead of heading out for your long-distance run like usual, run for a shorter length of time or skip a day all together. Long-distance running takes hours and puts continual stress on your body over this time period, which is not good for your immune system.
    • Studies have shown that intense bouts of strenuous exercise actually compromise your immune system for up to a day afterward. This means your body would be more susceptible to increased or additional sickness in the time after your run.[25]

Source and Citations

  15. Elinwood, Ellae. Stay Young with T'ai Chi: Flexible, Mobile, and Stress Free-after 50, Tuttle Publishing, 2003.

Article Info

Categories: Colds and Viruses